Many cars that history remembers as great were in reality only almost good when they left the factory. What made them great was the fact that they left their purchasers enough spare change to release their surprising potential. Other cars, the truly great ones, were nearly perfect just the way they were built. Such cars are premium products and justify a premium price. This Jaguar needs to work harder, smarter or maybe both to be worth its cover.
Observer's reactions to the Jaguar ranged from "Oh, a Taurus..." (yes, we editors know it's the Contour platform, not the Taurus) to "This is a really nice car!" The latter was, for the record, far more common. Personally, I was unimpressed before I ever drove it. In the photo we ran of this car for its introduction, looking at it out the door of an old milking barn, the right-hand headlight washer cover was held in place by gravity. It had fallen off some time before and came off again at that shoot. The cover is still in the glovebox, leaving the rough, unpainted white edge of the cutout in the bumper. Few economy cars do that today, and the car I use to illustrate my belief that there's a price below which it doesn't make sense to build a new car never actually had parts fall off.
Our X-Type frequently gives the impression of a car costing $10,000 less. If it sits in the sun, one is greeted with what a friend at Nissan calls the "Japanese fish-leather smell." The aroma goes away soon enough, but it speaks of an aspirational Honda, not polished English walnut and grace. The vinyl on the center armrest is losing its grain and feeling rubbery at 7,300 miles.
The seating arrangement suggests the car was built for women. Though the roofline is reasonably tall, the driver's seat can't be lowered far enough to keep my hair from brushing the headliner around the sunroof, and I have to duck to see most traffic lights if I am at the front of the line. The view out the top of the windshield is optically distorted, shrinking text on road signs vertically and causing my eyes to work harder as they try to adjust.
The touch-screen control panel in the dash is intuitive and capable, but the distribution of some functions between the screen and conventional buttons definitely carries a learning curve. The stereo sounds quite good.
The six is louder and lacks the high-rpm smoothness of those offered by BMW and Audi, and the sensation of power seems dependent on air temperature almost to the same degree as a turbo engine. At night, the Jag satisfies, but on an 80F afternoon, it's unremarkable.
The car's biggest problems, though, are with its rubber bits. Frankly, in their efforts to make the platform quiet and Jaguar-smooth, the engineers relied too heavily on this worthy material. Driveline lash is annoying, making throttle tip-in feel sudden and jerky. Combine that with dramatic acceleration squat, and driving elegantly requires real concentration. The shifter is not the world's best, but is much better than the one in, say, a Saab 9-3. I have seen liquid-filled engine mounts, but suspect applying the concept to the front suspension bushings may be one step too far.
My biggest whine about rubber is this: Jaguar decided that H-rated Continental ContiTouringContacts are good enough for the X-Type's $2,000 Sport package, even though the superb ContiSportContact shoes worn by our past BMW 330i long-termer manage to slum as low as Ford's Focus SVT and Nissan's Sentra SE-R Spec-V. I disagree with Jaguar, finding the ContiTouringContacts' grip inadequate for the car's performance handling mission. Indeed Sport, in this case, seems to mean the kind of activity for which one would wear a sport coat. The package includes a long list of features that do go far in enhancing our car's appearance, including the very nice British Racing Green paint. The fact that premium automobiles can again be purchased with non-metallic paint (not only this one) suggests that particular fashion requirement may be reaching the end of its course. One observer commented, when approaching it in an empty parking lot, that the 17-in. wheels looked too big for the car, and I found myself agreeing.
Sport Package items that affect dynamics begin with sport-style leather seats and Dynamic Stability Control (which, as like every other such system save PSM, must be switched off to drive in any manner resembling sporty) and include suspension Jaguar states is "sport tuned." It feels adequate on smoother roads, but over rough bumps and larger undulations, reveals itself to be undersprung and underdamped.
The car does do one thing very well. Perhaps due to the choice of tires, it doesn't turn in as well as some competing cars, but when you put the throttle down in a turn, the attitude changes; its awd chassis takes a set and exits as it should. I find myself forgetting how much this car costs and driving the hell out of it, foot to the floor and 5500-rpm shifts just getting around town, the way I would a good GTI. That tells me the X-Type has potential. It's the new Mondeo platform. The SHO Shop remade itself as Evosport and started working on BMWs because it was tired of building Contours and Tauruses that couldn't do anything with 400 hp. This engine is the same as those only in the fundamentals of its architecture, but the differences all suggest it should have even more headroom. Rubber can be replaced with harder rubber or something even more solid. Springs and dampers are easy to change, as are brake pads and lines. Tires are the easiest upgrade. This car could be friggin' amazing. But it's not.
When I get near the X-Type, my wrench hand tingles. For $2,650 less than the sticker on an M3 coupe, it shouldn't.